By John Lake, LGBT Segment Leader, Wells Fargo Marketing
Early in my career I spent a lot of energy trying to maintain a firewall between my personal life and the life I led at the office. As a gay man in a client-facing role at an advertising agency, pronouns and weekend plans were carefully edited. In June, Pride month was not yet something companies would acknowledge — much less celebrate. The only visual indications in the workplace were the sunburned faces and bleary eyes of a few employees the Monday after the annual LGBT Pride parade — a parade which, at that time, counted very little corporate support save for some pioneering beverage brands.
Now, as we see LGBT employees march proudly alongside corporate senior leaders and allies in parades around the country, it’s worth reflecting on how much progress has been made. Bringing your “full self to work” is not just possible in many companies, but it’s an imperative. As the leader of Wells Fargo’s LGBT marketing efforts, I’ve witnessed firsthand the role inclusive-minded companies have played, alongside great non-profit organizations like the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) and Out & Equal, to help advance the connection between corporate America and the LGBT community. When I think about Wells Fargo’s LGBT initiatives, I usually consider them in terms of three very important pillars: Our customers, our team members and our communities.
We are very proud of our track record of serving the specific financial needs of our LGBT customers. In 2009, we worked with the College for Financial Planning to create the Accredited Domestic Partner Advisor program. This resource was developed to educate financial advisors on the unique issues faced by same-sex couples, primarily because of the lack of legal marriage protections.
Those efforts continue today. When the Supreme Court’s decision brought marriage equality to the community, we responded immediately by developing up-to-date research and resources to help customers navigate the new landscape. We continually look at how financial needs are evolving and how we can tailor the guidance we provide. Last year, we even provided our customers the opportunity to customize their Wells Fargo debit cards with four unique designs reflecting the history and diversity of the LGBT Community. The program empowered customers to show their pride every time they made a purchase.
From a marketing perspective, Wells Fargo has consistently and respectfully connected to LGBT customers through segment-specific advertising channels over the past two decades. In 2015, we made history as the first financial services company to tell an LGBT story through a national general market advertising campaign. Our award-winning commercial featured a lesbian couple learning sign language as they prepared to build their family by adopting a deaf child. The authentic story we told was a groundbreaking external representation of the core values of diversity and inclusion that live within our guiding vision and values.
Before a company considers authentically reaching customers, however, it is important to have solid internal policies and practices in place that support and empower LGBT employees. 2017 marks Wells Fargo’s 30th anniversary of adding sexual orientation into our non-discrimination policy — five years before the HRC Foundation released its first Corporate Equality Index in 1992. We added gender identity protections in 2004 to extend the policy to our transgender team members and we continue to remain at the forefront of inclusive protections and benefits. This year, our internal policies have earned us a perfect 100 percent score on the HRC CEI for 14 consecutive years.
This top score includes recognition for our employee resources groups, or as we call them, team member networks (TMN’s). Our LGBT TMN, PRIDE, was established 25 years ago and recently surpassed 11,000 members — with much of the growth coming from allies. We owe this to two factors. First, we’ve made a focused effort to ensure all team members, regardless of their diversity dimension, are welcome to join any TMN that piques their interest. Second, we have developed a suite of resources that encourage the involvement of LGBT allies — from our online ally learning center, to ally recognition cards. Our TMN has also produced a series of groundbreaking panel discussions tackling topics such as LGBT families, transgender issues and gender fluidity, which are live streamed and available to view on our intranet for all 265,000 Wells Fargo employees. The powerful personal stories told on these panels engage and educate allies by bringing to life the issues faced by the LGBT team members they work with every day.
Finally, a major component of our commitment is giving back to the LGBT community by supporting key LGBT-focused organizations. Since the 1990s we have contributed over $50 million and countless volunteer hours to non-profit organizations that serve the needs of the LGBT community. Our portfolio of organizations that we work with continues to evolve, ensuring alignment with our philanthropic priorities and initiatives that have the greatest impact on the community.
This year we chose to feature four of those organizations in our Pride Month campaign to raise awareness for their mission and the services they provide for the community’s most vulnerable members. The campaign highlights a series of videos which tell the real stories of individuals whose lives have been changed through this work. For over a decade we have supported the work of three of these organizations: Gay Lesbian Straight Educational Network (GLSEN), the Trevor Project and Point Foundation, all of which address the needs of LGBT youth and students. The fourth is a more recent addition to our list: Advocacy and Services for LBGT Elders (SAGE), which focuses on improving the lives of our senior LGBT community members. Our objective was to bring awareness to ongoing issues faced by members of the LGBT community, while amplifying the great organizations that work every day to address those needs.
The commitment Wells Fargo has made to our LGBT customers, team members and communities will continue to evolve to meet their unique needs in a way that is consistent with our vision and values — and broader commitment to diversity and inclusion. At Wells Fargo, we take great pride in our rich history of LGBT inclusion, but we also know that this is only a foundation for how we will continue to strive for better in the future.
About John Lake
John is Vice President and LGBT Segment Manager for Wells Fargo Marketing. In that role he develops and drives LGBT marketing strategy across Wells Fargo’s national footprint. Prior to Wells Fargo, he served for eight years as Corporate Development Director for the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), America’s largest LGBT advocacy organization. Before moving to the non-profit side, John ran his own company, Open Door Marketing, and headed client services at the Isosceles Group — both agencies focused on respectfully connecting brands to LGBT consumers.